As a search company, we at Google try to develop scalable solutions to problems. In fact, Webmaster Tools was born out of this instinct: rather than fighting the losing battle of trying to respond to questions via email (and in multiple languages!), we developed an automated, scalable product that gives webmasters like you information about your sites and lets you handle many requests yourself. Now you can streamline the crawling of your site, improve your sitelinks, or clean up after a malware attack all on your own.
Of course, our Help Forum still gets hundreds of questions from site owners every week — everything from 'Why isn't my site in Google?' to very specific questions about a particular API call or a typo in our documentation. When we see patterns—such as a string of questions about one particular topic—we continue to use that information in scalable ways, such as to help us decide which parts of the product need work, or what new features we should develop. But we also still answer a lot of individual questions in our forum, on our blog, and at industry events. However, we can't answer them all.
So how do we decide which questions to tackle? We have a few guiding principles that help us make the most of the time we spend in places like our forum. We believe that there are many areas in which Google’s interests and site owners’ interests overlap, and we’re most motivated by questions that fall into these areas. We want to improve our search results, and improve the Internet; if we can help you make your site faster, safer, more compelling, or more accessible, that’s good for both of us, and for Internet users at large. We want to help as many people at a time as we can, so we like questions that are relevant to more than just one person, and we like to answer them publicly. We want to add value with the time we spend, so we prefer questions where we can provide more insight than the average person, rather than just regurgitating what’s already written in our Help Center.
The reason I tell you all this is because you can greatly increase your chances of getting an answer if you make it clear how your question helps us meet these goals. Here are some tips for increasing the likelihood that someone will answer your question:
- Ask in public.
If you post your question in our forum, the whole world gets to see the answer. Then when Betty has the same question a week later, she benefits because she can find the answer instantly in our forum, and I benefit because it saves me from having to answer the same question twice (or ten times, or fifty times, or...). We have a very strong preference for answering questions publicly (in a forum, on a blog, at a conference, in a video...) so that many people can benefit from the answer.
- Do your homework.
We put a lot of effort into writing articles, blog posts and FAQs to help people learn about search and site-building, and we strongly encourage you to search our Help Center, blog and/or forum for answers before asking a question. You may find an answer on the spot. If you don’t, when you post your question be sure to indicate what resources you’ve already read and why they didn’t meet your needs: for example, “I read the Help Center article on affiliate websites but I’m still not sure whether this particular affiliate page on my site has enough added value; can I get some feedback?” This shows that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves everyone from reiterating the obvious solutions if you’ve already ruled those out, and it will help get you a more specific and relevant answer. It can also help us improve our documentation if something’s missing.
- Be specific.
If you ask a vague question, you’re likely to get a vague answer. The more details and context you can give, the more able someone will be to give you a relevant, personalized answer. For example, “Why was my URL removal request denied?” is likely to get you a link to this article, as removals can be denied for a variety of reasons. However, if you say what type of removal you requested, what denial reason you got, and/or the URL in question, you’re more likely to get personalized advice on what went wrong in your case and what you can do differently.
- Make it relevant to others.
As I said earlier, we like to help as many people at a time as we can. If you make it clear how your question is relevant to more people than just you, we’ll have more incentive to look into it. For example: “How can site owners get their videos into Google Video search? In particular, I’m asking about the videos on www.example.com.”
- Let us know if you’ve found a bug.
As above, the more specific you can be, the better. What happened? What page or URL were you on? If it’s in Webmaster Tools, what site were you managing? Do you have a screenshot? All of these things help us track down the issue sooner. We appreciate your feedback, but if it’s too vague we won’t understand what you’re trying to tell us!
- Stay on-topic.
Have a question about Google Analytics? iGoogle? Google Apps? That’s great; go ask it in the Analytics / iGoogle / Apps forum. Not every Googler is familiar with every product Google offers, so you probably won’t get an answer if you’re asking a Webmaster Central team member about something other than Web Search or Webmaster Tools.
- Stay calm.
Trust me, we’ve heard it all. Making threats, being aggressive or accusatory, YELLING IN ALL CAPS, asking for “heeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp!!!!!1!!,” or claiming Google is involved in a mass conspiracy against you & your associates because your sites aren’t ranked on page one... Rather than making others want to help you, these things are likely to turn people off. The best way to get someone to help is by calmly explaining the situation, giving details, and being clear about what you’re asking for.
- Listen, even when it’s not what you wanted to hear.
The answer to your question may not always be the one you wanted; but that doesn’t mean that answer isn’t correct. There are many areas of SEO and website design that are as much an art as a science, so a conclusive answer isn’t always possible. When in doubt, feel free to ask people to cite their sources, or to explain how/where they learned something. But keep an open mind and remember that most people are just trying to help, even if they don’t agree with you or tell you what you wanted to hear.
Posted by Susan Moskwa, Webmaster Trends Analyst